English class for student spouses started as senior project to get them involved on campus

Written by: 
Antoniette Yee

Two TESOL alumna started an English class for student spouses as their senior project to help spouses be involved in the community, campus, church, and clubs, according to Alexis Joy Bongo, co-developer of the curriculum and a TESOL alumna from the Philippines.

Kryssa Stevenson, co-developer and TESOL alumna from Laie, said, “The reason we did everything we've done is we want people to come and learn." She emphasized the class is not about getting married. “People who heard about the spouse class thought the class was about how to get a spouse. But all jokes aside, I really want other students to know that our doors are open and everyone is welcome to come.”

Bongo said, “When you say senior project, it’s about giving back to the university for your education. We decided to do something that will leave a mark on the university before we graduate and something that will be helpful for the department.”

Last semester, Bongo and Stevenson worked on the curriculum to establish guidelines and directions for the spouse class. When asked about the preparations, Bongo said, “I remember when me and Kryssa worked 4-6 hours a day just to get it done. Every week, I had to write three to five lesson plans for just one unit. Before teaching about the main topic there has to be a pre-unit, and we also have to create post assignments.”

For Stevenson, some of her most unforgettable memories have been “behind-the-scenes action” that goes in to making a lesson plan. “We used to wear three sweaters in the library so we could camp out for five hours straight while planning lessons. We also had heart-to-heart talks with Brother Mark James when we needed a pep talk.”

Bongo said they did a little assessment at the beginning of the class composed of pictures with six questions each. She said, “We asked them to describe what they see in the picture so they can engage in a conversation. During the assessment, it was very difficult for them so we decided to change the focus of the lesson.”

Bongo explained one challenge is meeting the different goals of each students. “We need to find the single average point that everybody can benefit.”

There were a lot of bumps when they started that Bongo attributed to them being students. The first attempt they made was to bring the class out to the TESOL Society Club and TESOL students. According to Bongo, the feedback wasn’t good. She explained, “There were students who said, ‘That’s not your job,’ ‘You’re not part of the faculty,’ and ‘It’s just a senior project.’ For some students, a senior project is just something that will build their online portfolio. But Kryssa and I had a different motive."

Advertising the spouse class was a challenge too, shared Bongo. “We went to the Housing Department, door-to-door, we talked to the stake president, and we asked EIL teachers to advertise it in class. But we only ended up having three students.”  Stevenson said the class became successful because of support from the English Language Teaching (ELT) Department and their friends, who also helped with some of the lesson materials.

Bongo said she’s pretty sure there are a lot of people who wants to attend the class, but there are different factors that hinder them like not being informed, not having a babysitter, needing a translator, having a conflict with their schedule, or being shy.

“The student spouses don’t go to school,” Bongo added. “I’m sure they want to go out and mingle with other people, but they can’t because their language is limited.”

Stevenson was raised in an English-Samoan bilingual home, served a Spanish-speaking mission in Texas, and did an internship in Japan. According to Stevenson, aside from her love teaching non-native English speakers, her linguistic background is one of the reasons she is so passionate in helping with the spouse class.

She said, “I've had a lot of experiences where people treated me like I was stupid or weird because I either didn't know the language or couldn't speak it as well as everyone else could. People who have never struggled to communicate might not realize how lonely and sometimes embarrassing it can be. But I was able to overcome my language barriers, and I want to help other people overcome theirs.”

Cheyenne Wing, a TESOL senior from Idaho, said the topics in the class are relevant to student spouses. “I wish more students and spouses knew about the class because it could help them with speaking opportunities and get out with social opportunities. It would be great to improve their English and life here.”

Wing said sometimes it’s hard to teach students who are the same age as her but likes it when she finds “something my students want to improve on, and I get to help them make that improvement. There’s a lot of resources here in BYUH not just for students but for spouses as well. It’s here for them to utilize.”

Stevenson said they’re looking to expand the course by designing an online curriculum to supplement what they teach in class. “The online course will have all of the materials we use in class, along with pre- and post-lesson materials students can use to practice in between classes.

“We also plan to include a pre-testing section for students who know they're coming to BYUH and want to practice from their home country before they arrive,” she continued.

Bongo and Stevenson encouraged anybody who’s struggling with English to attend the class. Bongo said, “Everyone is welcome. The spouse class is not an actual class but an extensive free English class we offer on campus and to anyone from the community.”

Stevenson added, “Even if you're already a student but still want to get some extra practice, come. If you want to come but have other obligations keeping you, please reach out to us. We would be more than happy to help you find something that fits your lifestyle and help you learn.

The class piloted this semester and is held every Tuesday and Thursday from 5-6 p.m. in GCB 182.

Stevenson said everyone is invited to come and attend the class.

Date Published: 
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Last Edited: 
Tuesday, October 31, 2017